Microsoft and Xbox need to reign in their PR spin before they become the asshole friend that no on really likes…
Every friend group has one. It’s that asshole friend who nobody really likes but still gets to hang around with you because everyone is too polite to tell them to jump off a cliff. They lie to try to impress you, they do dumb things that inconvenience everyone and they criticise others to make themselves look better. If you don’t think your friend group has one of these, you’re probably the asshole friend.
An Example – My own personal asshole friend recently went to holiday in Italy where he “found a dead body while scuba diving”, where he “fell over in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican city and was helped to his feet by the Pope” and “Met Jennifer Lawrence”. None of us believe that any of this actually happened. In the past, he’s gone on a beer-run and returned with £50 worth of alcohol-free beer “because it was cheap”, much to the dismay of the thirsty party guests and invited himself along on dates because he was bored. You get the picture.
In the gaming world, Microsoft are quickly becoming that asshole friend. Over the past month, Phil Spencer and the Xbox brand have started to tell lies to try to impress us and have criticised the competition while acting like a concerned friend and to some degree, it has worked – But I feel like I need to say something before we’re stuck with another “WOAH 6K gaming!/XBOX1S HAS 4K GAMING!” disaster. And before you chalk this up to the rantings of a PlayStation fanboy, allow me to remind you that I’m sold on the Xbox One X. For a non-Xbox-One-Owner, it’s a perfect jumping on point. You’d be hard pressed to replicate the capabilities of the X for the same price with a PC and its power dwarfs that of the PS4. Microsoft have branched out with their exclusives too, breaking the “just shooters and racers” mold with the likes of Cuphead, Sea of Thieves and Super Lucky’s Tale. I’m also under no illusion that Sony have been innocent in recent months and, trust me, as soon as I get the time, I’ll take aim at them and rake them over the coals too. BUT – Just for today – let’s focus on Microsoft’s recent fumbles.
Let’s start with E3. Proudly standing on stage, Phil Spencer proclaimed that they be showing “42 titles on its E3 stage including 22 with console exclusivity”. Except, that’s not entirely true is it Phil? Of the 42 games on display, only a handful are actually “exclusive” to Xbox consoles – not that you could tell the difference though. Launch exclusives, Resolution exclusives, World Exclusives, Xbox/Win 10 Exclusives, Exclusive Exclusives – The word was thrown around so often during Microsoft’s E3 2017 presentation that it lost all semblance of meaning. After the dust of E3 2017 started to settle, it became quite clear that a large percentage of that “22 games with console exclusivity” would be coming to other consoles at some point too, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds among them. I half expected Phil Spencer to start telling me about his recently holiday to Italy…
Perhaps Microsoft should be excused from using the world “Exclusive” so ambiguously – every console manufacturer has been guilty of it in the past – but at E3 2017, they were the only group to do so. Both Nintendo and Sony used Exclusive and meant Exclusive.
And then there’s the whole Minecraft cross-play debacle. In case you missed it, Microsoft have announced that Minecraft will now cross-play between all versions from the Nintendo Switch to the Xbox 360 to mobile devices – except for the PS4. Why is this? Well, “Sony refused” because (and I’m quoting Sony’s Jim Ryan here);
“We’ve got to be mindful of our responsibility to our install base. Minecraft – the demographic playing that, you know as well as I do, it’s all ages but it’s also very young. We have a contract with the people who go online with us, that we look after them and they are within the PlayStation curated universe. Exposing what in many cases are children to external influences we have no ability to manage or look after, it’s something we have to think about very carefully”
The thing is, Sony are absolutely right to say no to cross-play in the form that Microsoft have offered it. Why? Aside from it doing Micrsoft a favour by removing the “My friends play here, so I’ll play here” aspect, it’s because it’ll require you to log-in to Xbox Live. Even if you’re on the Nintendo Switch or PS4, you’ll still need to sign into the Xbox online system. This isn’t as simple as having both networks talk to one another – It’s a logistical nightmare for Sony. Imagine, hypothetically, that Xbox Live has an outage while people are playing Minecraft via crossplay on PS4. Where do you think people will complain too when they can’t get online? Microsoft or Sony? I’d bet it’d be the latter. And what if a tablet player using Xbox Live player tries to groom a child on PS4 player via Minecraft? Where does the report need to go to? How does that player get banned? Who deals with the police? There’d need to be a months of discussions to iron out the details of what goes where, what data can be shared etc. and why even open that Pandora’s box when Sony have been adequately policing the game? At least as separate entities, Sony are responsible for their own security and the safety of their players.
Of course, Phil Spencer then went on the defensive by saying; “The fact that somebody would make an assertion that somehow we’re not keeping Minecraft players safe, I found, not only from a Microsoft perspective, but from a game industry perspective…. I don’t know why that has to become the dialogue” and “We would never put Minecraft in a place where we felt like we weren’t keeping our players safe“.
This obviously called a shit storm online with much of the gaming press casting shade on PlayStation’s reluctance to sign-up. On the other hand, Sony are right to be apprehensive. As well as a few recent high-profile Paedophilia cases involving Minecraft and Xbox Live, Sony and Microsoft have a different standard of moderation. Remember when both Microsoft and Bethesda’s Todd Howard said there would be “no nude mods for the Xbox One version of Fallout 4”? It took 2 weeks for Nude mods to arrive in Xbox One’s Fallout 4. Just 2 weeks. Have these been removed? No, they’re still there. Sony shouldn’t just accept Microsoft’s level of moderation (much like their more restrictive stance on Fallout 4 mods) and shouldn’t accept Microsoft’s offer of cross-play in its current form. That’s like your asshole friend saying “Hey! Let’s share a bank account – but it’s my name on the account and I get to control what goes in and out of it” and not letting you have a say in it and then the press saying “Excuse me? Why haven’t you started sharing a bank account with your asshole friend yet?”.
The thing is, Microsoft and Xbox don’t need to be acting like the asshole friend. They don’t need to be going out and saying they “look at [PS4] Pro as more of a competitor to [Xbox One] S than I do to Xbox One X,” which, let’s be honest, is a fallacy. They don’t need to be going out to lie about the number of actual exclusives they have in the works to try to impress us. They don’t need to bash their competitors “adaptive 4K” using Checkerboard rendering – when that’s exactly the same system used by some Xbox One X games being touted as “True 4K”. They don’t need to be suggesting that Sony’s reluctance behind not wanting cross-play is unwarranted – because it is, at least in its current form. Perhaps the past few years have taken their toll on Phil and the Xbox team. Perhaps they feel like they need to act like this because they’ve been on the defensive for so long. But there’s a way to press your offensive and acting like a tool isn’t the right way…
They’re gearing up to release the most powerful games console ever devised and instead of talking a lot of shit, they should be showing the world why they should part with $500 for it. They should be going out and giving genuine reasons why their “ForKays” is better than other “ForKays” or why their games are worth paying a $500. Instead, they’re constantly bogged down by telling little white lies to confuse us, getting caught up in shit slinging matches, criticising others to make themselves look better and putting so much PR spin on things that it might as well be a Merry-Go-Round. Microsoft are in real danger of becoming the gaming equivalent of asshole friend that no likes unless they start to turn words into actions because fewer people are buying into it each time.